Japan’s Abe urges telecommuting, staggered shifts to curb coronavirus

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will unveil new measures on Tuesday to stem the spread of a coronavirus as infections and deaths climb, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urging people to telecommute or work staggered hours to minimize risk.

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives a policy speech at the start of the regular session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan has 159 domestic infections, apart from 691 on a ship in the port of Yokohama south of Tokyo, the British-registered Diamond Princess, since it docked on Feb. 3. On Tuesday, broadcaster NHK reported a fourth death among passengers.

Abe was speaking before the health ministry is expected to release a new raft of measures. Rather than trying to contain the disease outright, authorities are seeking to slow its expansion and minimize deaths.

Telecommuting, or working online or from home, would reduce the infection risk from people gathered in one place.

Abe’s administration will take stronger steps to fight contagion in regions where there are clusters of cases, he added.

On Monday, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato convened a panel of medical experts to decide how to rein in the disease, now known as COVID-19.

Patient numbers could explode if infection spreads rapidly, overburdening the healthcare system and damaging the economy, the panel wrote on the health ministry website.

“We are entering a new phase. That’s why it’s a very critical moment now,” Shigeru Omi, a panel member and president of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization, told a news briefing on Monday. “These coming weeks are very crucial.”

Passengers who left the Diamond Princess after the end of quarantine on Feb. 19, mostly Japanese but with a sprinkling of foreigners, have been asked to stay at home and avoid public transport.

The United States and other countries took their citizens off before the official end of quarantine.

Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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